I wrote an article about ten years ago titled – BA or BS? It wasn’t published despite sending it to about ten publications which only rubbed salt into my wounds.
I enjoyed my undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree. I studied what I love – Art History, Film, English Literature and Visual Arts. I felt like I was a time travelling adventurer discovering cultures and reasons and understanding why things are as they are.
As a graduate, when I mentioned my Arts degree to others, particularly to people who studied something like engineering, law or medicine, they looked at me funnily. Politely but pointedly they’d say, “And what will that allow you to do?”
I was saddened with this tone but even more so, reality like a sharp knife into the ribs, revealed that an Arts degree lands you no where specific. But, I needn’t worry. I was on an adventure!
When I say I’m a writer now, most people with “actual” jobs remark, “But it must be awfully hard to make a living?” This is said with a kind-heartedness I imagine they have on reserve for children who are adamant they saw Santa Clause.
Instead of shying away and feeling downtrodden I LOVE these questions and comments now. My adventures have strengthened me through time – I’ve made “something” of my very “loose” degree.
What my degree did to me was incredible. I tell anyone who will listen that a Bachelor of Arts will change your your brain forever, and you’ll be the better for it. It won’t break your spirit like a lot of degrees do; it will actively help you build it. And make you a valued professional when you’re in the workforce no matter where you end up.
I learned about the Enlightenment, the Spanish civil war, queer theory, The Death of the Author, Aesthetics and on and on. My brain hurt so much trying to read texts and stay on top of the analysing, alongside all the other aspects of the study (whilst working three jobs). I was very much pushed to my intellectual limits.
Staying up late at night to finish an assignment was usual. It was painful and I called out to my Mum, “I’d rather die than do this assignment!” but ultimately the exhilarating feeling of being on top of content that had been written and talked about for eras, kept me going, making me feel grounded in time, and more so in myself. I knew my place in considered thought – I was humbled. I was stretched. I was opened up. And all of this was good.
Without this, I wouldn’t be where I am today; confident to absorb complex situations, connect to history, rationalise what next steps are the best, form an opinion and involve others in my thinking.
The article I wrote way back when, talked about the value of a Bachelor of Arts degree. I was upset that people thought it was effectively bullshit as I heard (and still hear) workplaces valued people with other degrees. That was bullshit, I thought. Don’t they understand what you gain in one of these degrees?
A Bachelor of Arts asks you to think; not just lightly; and then share your opinion with rhetoric and flair. It asks you to read twenty texts, recapitulate everyone else’s words and then use them to build your unique argument. That is not something that can be taught. It only comes with being presented with the ideas, then the freedom to explore.
The open-endedness of the Arts degree is the gold. It takes a certain kind of bravery to dive into that kind of intellectual unknown and come out the other side.
What I learned in my Bachelor of Arts, while largely intangible or soft skills, is still with me today. And I’ve built on it. Analysis, problem solving, communication.
Should I have studied Communications? I’ve often thought about that. I think it would have pigeon-holed me and led me a different way, without building my broad capacities first. Should I have gone on to a teaching degree? Yep, I think about that too. I can’t imagine myself working in the confines of an institution like that for long. Hence I didn’t.
What does it boil down to? Secure job and money or wide-open thinking and enlightenment? A Bachelor of Arts helped me be free. Problem solver, rover, writer. It’s what I’ve amounted to. A lack of direction led to fantastical adventures that built me in ways a linear vocational trajectory could not.
As a communications professional now this gives a certain edge. I don’t see things the same way as people with marketing, business or commerce or other sensible backgrounds. I do communications differently because of my Bachelor of Arts background. I’ve felt the freedom to develop my own programs. Seaside Writing is unlike anything you’ll experience anywhere else.
If you’re not sure if you should study a BA because “it’ll get you nowhere,” please reconsider. And if you’re ever in a position where you can collaborate with or hire a person with a BA, give it a go. A BA isn’t BS.